Those dreaded words... "I quit gymnastics."
You may have heard them many times from your gymnast over the years or maybe it's the first time she's ever said something like that to you.
Right now, with things shifting and everyone settling into a new norm, it's likely that your gymnast is going to consider this as an option...so be ready! It might not be that she really wants to quit. But things are different and feel strange and what she once knew has now drastically changed.
Maybe she has to wear a mask to practice or doesn't get to socialize with her gym friends like she used to.
Maybe her coaches seem more stressed or her hours in the gym have completely changed.
Maybe her meet season has been cancelled or postponed and she's just lost motivation.
Maybe she returned to the gym but lost a lot of skills and is feeling defeated.
These are all valid feelings and in the middle of a pandemic they must be acknowledged and understood.
But it doesn't mean quitting is the answer.
It also doesn't mean you should brush your gymnast's feelings off and shut her request down without a discussion.
It's also possible your gymnast's decision to quit has nothing to do with the pandemic and everything to do with feeling a sense of burnout, lack of motivation, or dealing with injuries.
So when your gymnast comes to you and says "I want to quit" what should you do?
Here are 3 things I think are super important to do in that moment:
Number 1: Listen to her feelings without judging. Let her feel heard.
Quitting gymnastics is a big decision, especially for a girl who could flip before she could walk. Most likely your gymnast has a love and passion for gymnastics so coming to this conclusion was not an easy one for her.
Find out why she's feeling this way by listening to what she says.
Is she tired?
Not having fun any more?
Uncomfortable with her coaches?
Wanting to try something new?
The more you listen, the more you can hear what is at the root of your gymnast's desire to quit.
It might be that she just needs some time off. Or it might be that she feels too much pressure and needs to ease up in her training. Maybe she needs to drop down to rec classes for a little while to remember why she loves gymnastics so much.
Regardless of her reasons, it's important to really hear her side of the story and to help her feel heard.
Acknowledge what she is saying with "I can see why that would make you feel that way" kind of statements.
At the end of the day, sometimes she just needs an outlet to vent to and after sharing her feelings may feel better and change her mind!
Number 2: Acknowledge that the decision is hers to make but that she can only make the decision after a "good" gym day.
It's easy to quit on a "bad" gym day. And it's easy to have a frustrating practice where she can't seem to hit any of her skills and then want to quit.
It's easy to be struggling with a mental block and decide life would be easier without the struggle of gymnastics. Or it's easy to underperform at a meet and want to quit afterwards when you're embarrassed or upset.
But it's a lot harder to come off a great gym day and decide to quit.
It's nearly impossible to feel the "high" of learning a new skill and run out of the gym saying you want to quit.
And if she does come away from a great day at the gym and say she wants to quit then it's time to take her request seriously because something is truly wrong.
Olympian Nastia Liukin shared that her mom used to say to her "Ok, you can quit. But only after you've had a good gym day." Nastia would agree and then forget about her desire to quit when some time had passed and she had had a great day at the gym. She was a smart gym mom!
Number 3: Recognize the signs of wanting to quit versus burnout.
When gymnasts are training hard, month after month, it's common to experience burnout.
Burnout often comes when a gymnast isn't getting enough rest (both physically and mentally) or is under a lot of pressure and stress to perform.
Symptoms of burnout in gymnasts include fatigue, frequent illness, lack of enthusiasm, frequent injuries, chronic pain, loss of appetite, irritability or mood changes.
Gymnasts who have low self-esteem, high anxiety levels, or are under a lot of pressure from parents or coaches are at higher risk for burnout.
If you notice any of these symptoms in your gymnast then she might be overtraining and need a break. It could be a break from going to the gym so many days a week, taking a week or two off, skipping a competition season, or getting more sleep.
Gymnasts these days are juggling the high demands of competitive gymnastics with the increased demands at school and in their social life. It's a lot for a gymnast to handle!
And sometimes the easiest way for them to handle it is to want to quit the thing that feels the biggest in their life at that moment.
So if you can tell that your gymnast is exhibiting some of these burnout symptoms, talk to her coach and then give your gymnast a break. See if her spirits are different after having some time off.
Sometimes that's enough to remind her of her love for gymnastics and give her the rest that she needs to come back strong.
Having your gymnast tell you she wants to quit is never an easy thing to hear, especially when you know the love your gymnast once had for gymnastics. But remember, it's important to hear your gymnast out and to acknowledge her feelings. It's also important to encourage her to stick it out until she has a "good" gym day and to revisit the topic of quitting then. Finally, the last tip is to look for the symptoms of burnout and if they are relevant, treat those symptoms to see if burnout is really the cause behind your gymnast's desire to quit.
Has your gymnast ever wanted to quit gymnastics? If so, how did you handle it? Share with me below in the comments.
If you or your gymnast needs support, in addition to the resources below I also offer one-on-one coaching sessions via Zoom.
- Resources: Get gymnastics downloads to help your gymnast work on her mental skills in gymnastics
- Mental Health Training for Gymnasts: Help your gymnast learn about her brain and the fight-flight-or-freeze response.
- Free Facebook Group for Moms of Gymnasts: Join this group to chat with other gymnastics moms and get tips for how to help your gymnast navigate through the mental ups and downs of gymnastics